Tuesday, June 10, 2008

TokyoPop, what happened?

One of my very favorite mangas (and actually all around favorite comic) was Kare Kano by Masami Tsuda. Kare Kano ran for 21 volumes and was a 26 episode anime called His and Her Circumstances here in the U.S. His and Her Circumstances was great as an anime, with great animation and great voice work, but because of creative differences between the anime director and the original creator of Kare Kano, the ending wasn't all it could have been and the manga goes well beyond where they left off in the anime and there's things that happen later in the story that would have been very powerful had they been part of the anime series also.

Kare Kano is a coming of age / romance story between Miyazaua and Arima, two high school students at the top of their class. Arima had a very troubled home life growing up and when we meet his birth parents later in the series, the sequences with his messed up mom are amongst the most dramatic passages I've read in any medium. Kare Kano is beautifully drawn, is often very funny, and has characters that actually progress.

Kare Kano was published by TokyoPop. Other TokyoPop favorites of mine are Initial D (about mountain drift racing of all things!), Dragonhead, Mars, Fruits Basket, Battle Royale, GTO, and Beck. TokyoPop has also done some OEM (original english manga) that has been very good such as Dramacon and Steady Beat.

Last week it was confirmed that TokyoPop had laid off 30 employees and was splitting their company into two entities. So what happened to Tokyopop, once the manga leader here in the U.S.? Here's the way I see what happened: 1. They haven't had a new title from Japan in some time that's really excited the manga crowd like Kare Kano and Fruits Basket did as Viz seems to be getting all the better Japanese series. 2. TokyoPop has tried too many things like having content for mobile phones and doing OEM without really supporting / nurturing them, thus those projects get lost in the sea of everything else. 3. They have too many titles that are really just C list titles, with catalog listings that don't help distinguish them. 4. There are just too many publishers now doing manga here in the U.S. and thus too many titles vying for shelf space at book stores and people can't keep up and it's getting harder to find the gems amongst the coal (I've read that TokyoPop may be recently seeing as much as 80% returns from book stores that can return unsold product). 5. People reading / getting their fix of manga online (scanslations) and or libraries. I don't have the numbers to back this up, but just from over hearing my customers and what I read online, people that like manga have less of a drive to actually physically own what they're reading and while some of those people also buy the books, largely they're content to just read them and this doesn't make the creators or the publishers any money (and to my knowledge this occurs much more with manga than people who read "regular" comics).

Hopefully TokyoPop will still be a viable manga publisher here in the U.S., but I'd say that Viz and Dark Horse seem to be the U.S. publishers who had long term planning in place when they entered the manga arena and presently they're getting the best of the Japanese titles. While I can understand that having a big exhibit at the San Diego convention is very costly, TokyoPop's decision to not attend this year is going to dissappoint a lot of their fans that don't go to Anime Expo (which takes place Fourth of July weekend). I think people will really be paying attention to what TokyoPop does and previews at this year's Anime Expo and that may be the true tell of their future as a company.

The other really curious thing to me about manga that I haven't seen anyone address is the lack of most manga titles having anything resembling evergreen sales once they've completed (meaning titles that sell over and over like Watchmen, Sandman, and Ghost World do). I'm thinking part of this is because just the sheer length of a lot of manga series scares away people when they think about the total cost of getting the whole series (and space issues). Another factor is that most people are just looking for the newest thang and series that are over are so yesterday (I think this also is truer of manga fans than for "regular" comics).


Camila said...

ralph where do you find out about this stuff?

Ralph Mathieu said...

I make it all up! Seriously though, I read some comic news sites regularly like Newsarama and Heidi's The Beat so that I can stay informed.